THE GATHERING 

 

I.  As suspected, the madness has set in early this year.

"Mother of god!" cries Fish.

"It's as I feared, the contagion has spread…"

It only makes too much sense, really, what with the melting snow at the tail end of two cold, unruly weeks. That and the wholly unsavory date of it all, being so damned close to July.

"Just as well though, as long as we've made the quarantine." It was just a matter of time till things got out of hand; till the slush balls started to fly, till the piggies started to get it… till a cop got some snow to the head with a rock in it. Uncey Sam took it personal, as he is wont to do, and now his fingers comb the approach in full force, busting balls and some skulls. They’re all here: Feds, State Troopers, Park Rangers, National Forest Officers, local Fuzz, the County Sheriff, all come to get down on the fun. Really though, it’s the Feds behind it… always the same, same echoes of McCarthy, god and country that is, ringing out each year to the next.

"But what of the permit?" says Fish. "They promised us sanctuary if we would only take the proper channels."

"Ahh phooey. It was only a ruse, I said so all along. The tunnels of their bureaucracy lead up paper trails to asbestos, never to light."

"But how is it justified?"

"Justified?"

"Good christ…" Fish mutters, "is anyone at the helm of this beast? Look at these people, do they look like villains?"

Around us mills a multitude of jovial looking characters: young and old, babies, kids; some natty, some fat, some clean and some not. Laughter in their eyes and dancing in their feet by the looks of it.

"Shit, son, " I laugh, "do you know who these people are? They're vagrants and vagabonds, miscreants, subversives and rabble rousers; mothers, fathers, working professionals and the unemployed! These people are vigilantes and malcontents; blue collar, white collar and representatives of various minorities. This gathering is a breeding ground for insurgency; upstarts, revolutionaries and the like all flow from this rainbow-colored spring. Terror from within and nothing short of it…"

A young lass with her child smiles at me as she passes.

"And many of them smoke cigarettes."

"No."

An emaciated old man shuffles by, hair down to his ass. His gaze turns suddenly and fixes on Fish.

"Agooni-goo-goo."

Fish coughs.

"Ahh... what?"

"Agooni-goo-goo."

Fish peers at the man as though one of them had clearly lost his head.

"Look… I—"

"Agooni-goo-goo."

"I don’t want any trouble, old man."

It’s high time for me to step in.

"Can't you see this man is trying to say hello?"

"Oh. Well, ahh... gooni-goo-goo to you too."

He beams at Fish and moves on.

"Jesus."

"You said it," and I shoulder my bag. "Ready?"

At ten thousand feet we prepare to enter the deep. Day's nearly done in these Utah mountains and dark's coming on fast.

"Do we have everything?" says Fish.

"Don't make no difference now. Nowheres to go but in." Around us is a million acres of the Uinta National Forest. Fish struggles into his uncle’s old metal-framed pack.

"When night's on us, things will be no end of strange, but when light she comes round again, the whole world will be like nothing you've ever seen before."

 

II.  Morning light flits across a swampy alpine meadow. Little flowers of white, pink, blue speckle the green a patchwork. Thick needley forest circumvents the formidable clearing bout a quarter mile a cross. A blue and silver dome mars the sanctity of its enclosure. Emergence from the womb of said blemish brings day like a kick in the teeth.

"Fish, my man, look on what we've stumbled."

A furry head pokes from the tent.

"It's somethin' else."

"Indeed. But is that... ah, yes. That would be where the little cuntrags breed."

"Fuckers," he spits.

In conjunction with the melt and subsequent boon of spawning real estate, the proliferation of primates on the mountain top had instigated an apocalyptic pestilence. From dusk to wee morn, a cloud born of the foulest hell arose, and made a boiling chemical fire of any exposed meat, to the point that urination was an act of self mortification.

Like other faithful servants of the Dark Lord— government bureaucrats, the corporate elite, former senators and economists notwithstanding—said mosquito hordes had retired with the creeping sun to propagate themselves, or quite possibly, to metamorphose into the aforementioned individuals. The mammoth and highly carnivorous fly population however, as well of considerable impediment to the retention of sanity, showed no signs of similar intentions. Perhaps they had come upon the notion of shift work, making possible their round the clock malevolence.

"Surely that unpleasantness will be on the out as things dry up."

"Mmm. Can't wait to cruise the site," says Fish.

"Goddamn beautiful," as I kill a fly the size of a clitoris. "Let's roll."

Through the woods behind our camp, we come out into a long, grassy meadow that stretches far into the distance to either side of us. A stream winds down its length, the shallow water burbling calmly around worn ferrous rock, tiny minnows darting about. We cross over on two logs lain for such a purpose and take a path to the right along the wood's edge. We pass some maidens lolling about on the stream bank, flowers tucked up into their curls.

"I don't suppose you figure those there ladies are into the blues, do you Fish?"

"Hard to say, but, uh, you know...."

"Mmm... chances do seem good."

Two shirtless young men approach, each with an enormous water melon on their shoulder.

"Welcome home," comes from the first, a sweaty smile from the second.

Up ahead in the trees a little ways is a camp. Suspended above a fire, a fantastically huge pot, rather, a cauldron, boils vigorously. Several large, hairy gents sit around passing a bowl. A few not quite so large and hairy women recline in front of some tents, a couple of noisy tots blathering about nearby. What appears to be a sheet with something splattered on it in mud hangs between two trees.

"Ah... splendid."

"What is it?" asks Fish.

"Montana Mud, looks like. Excellent folks." As we approach, one of the behemoths raises an arm.

"Heyya boys, got some stew on fur yous if ya want it."

We reach the steaming tub o' grub and I pull two deep wooden bowls from my sack.

"Welcome home, y'all. When'd you git in?" whilst he scoops us the thickness with the world's largest ladle.

"Last night." And we sit down on a log.

"Hell of a site ain't it. Shit, don't get more beautiful. Now the heats finally comin' on too. Been goddamn cold, snow for two an' a half weeks. Started right after me and my old lady came up."

Some fleeting pockets of snow still stick on in the surrounding tree cover. Beans and roots in the stew, and all kinds of hotness.

"Snow's gotta be done now. Just gonna get hotter. Gonna be a hell of a Gatherin'. Been over to main circle yet? Aw, you gotta check it out. Plenty big. Gonna be all kinds a room on the fourth."

I look over at Fish. He's trying to eat a chunk of carrot, but it's too hot. He spits it back in the bowl.

"I burnt ma tongue," he says to me all lispy, a goofy ass smile on his face. I give him a smile and we both crack up. Shit.

Up comes a naked guy and sits down next to Fish.

"How's it hanging?" says Fish.

The guy looks down at his junk for a while and then back over at Fish.

"Looks alright from here."

Shit.

"Woo-wee!" from the stew. "Gonna be a hell of a Gatherin'."

Shit.

 

III.  Main circle opens before us as the stream curves left, an enormous expanse of gentle, green hills. Camps ring the forest edge, starting on our left and running all the way around the meadow to a group of large tipis on the high ground to our right. In the centre, a tall, thin trunk had been erected, trailing colorful strings of prayer flags. The forest seethes with humanity; fifteen—maybe twenty thousand, converging and spilling out into this meadow, its nucleus. Like some swelling electrical tidal wave of soulshine, the influx of people is so massive it can be felt, just standing here.

We lay down on the grass, eyes closed and lost in the sweet, safe darkness of our skulls. When they open, a terrible howl erupts from Fish, morphing momentarily into an infinitely fouler torrent of laughter.

And, all at once the enormity of things take hold and my own howl joins shortly. The sheer scope of the madness, of the beauty and light which is manifesting itself in this place, pummels us both, now, from the blindside. With the resounding smack of skin on the ephemeral pavement of the abyss, we appeared down for the count.

But, no!

I leap to my feet.

"Good graceless god in heaven!" I belt with all the blasphemous vitriolic I can muster. Fish moans and I give him a kick.

"Don't you see what's happening here?"

"Um... I think so?"

"You think so? Jesus, man. Rouse yourself. Emerge from your foggy daze. Grab hold of your testes and steer for the sun, cause this is it."

"Is what?" he asks me, "is what, you lunatic?"

"This. The end, the beginning; the apocalypse, the cataclysm, the wrath, the rapture. The horsemen are closing in, brother Fish, Valhalla's rising, the sky is falling, and the Hell's Angel's are probably already here."

"Oh god," he whimpers.

"God? God? God's a myth, a lie, a farce; a product of collective psychoses aimed at getting ourselves to sleep a little better after mucking about and fucking everything all the live long day. Jesus been dead a long time, and he ain't nowhere to be seen. What's more, his mama fucked somebody and she probably liked it just fine. Ain't nobody comin' for us and there never will be. Mohammed scrapped his horse for dog food, Buddha's out with the clap and Ganesh's rat is in the shop. Fuck! Who wants some? Confucius? Confucius is too busy stuffing chopsticks up his bung. And Lao Tzu? Well, shit. Motherfucker said the same thing I'm saying now, and guess what? Nobody wanted to listen then either. Ahhh...."

"What the hell are you trying to say?"

"What I'm saying, is that it's on us. It's on us and no one else and it always has been. We're no child anymore, stompin' round in ant hills, chuckin' rocks at bee hives, fuckin' with really big cats. We're old enough to drive but we insist on being utterly sauced every time that we do. We keep smashing 'em up and ol' papa earth's runnin' outta cash for new ones. We've finished grade school alright, but our fancypants learnin' don't do us no good at all, cause we just love the junk and the rock and the shnae and the dust too goddamn much that it's eating us from the inside and by Christ, that cunt, it's just about through to the cerebral motherfucking cortex!

"Oh we've been fucking about for long enough now. Ever since we started turning soil and chopping down forests, putting up cities and building armies. Once upon a time some piece a work figured they could lock up the eats and get fat while most of us lived in shit, workin' it to the bone just to feed the monkey. It's happened again and again and we've been stuck ever since, spinning tires in the slick that just keeps flowing'.

"But the thing is, my fishy friend," and I fall to my knees before him, "that we might just have this one instant, this one badmamajama blip in time and space to stop acting the motherfucking fool. The why is abundantly clear, as is the who, the where, the what, and the when. It's that rogue fucker 'H' that makes things a little sticky. But as this grass and these trees and this sky are my witness," in a whisper now, "it can be done. If Brother Lou could kick horse, than so can we."

I fall down next to him and stare up into that endless blue, and through to the black beyond; so big big huge I wanna cry.

"Well, sir. Is the mission clear?" I say to him.

"I think so. At least the feelin' of it."

"Well, shit, that's all we need. Hell, it's probably all we got."

"And what of this… this thing?" he says.

"This? Why… this time, this place; this is where we need to be. There's plenty of light bustin' through here, that I know. Amongst the bullshit, the agendas and the fluff, I do believe this is as stripped as hip gets. There are many here that know the score and make it happen out in Babylon, and many, many who at least know that the heats on, and that dancin's better than hurtin', laughin's better than cryin', and lovin'... lovin's better than hatin'.

"They... we, have come here to make it happen. To make this boat into a ship, a craaaazy space ship; run the bad bitch down the cosmic river and have it move on nothin' but the love and the labor that we'll all pitch. Ain't no one gonna make any money, and no one gonna go hungry."

"But how will it fly? So many goddamn people. And what kind of havoc will it wreak?"

"Oh it'll fly, one way or another. And the beauty of it? When its over, we'll cover the trails; we'll scatter the pits, fill in the trenches and leave almost nothing behind. In a year or two, you won't even be able to tell we were here."

 

 

- Marc Serpa Francoeur